If the turn toward emotion in the most recent readings was not prompted by a spontaneous desire for a closer personal relationship with God, or the need for some sort of collective cathartic release, then the question remains why this sudden interest in Mary’s emotional and physical response to the Passion?
The tradition of Marian devotion has established Mary, because of her perfect vision and purity, as the lens through which mankind can see God. Previously this has been put into practice by reading scripture through Mary, so that the signs of Christ’s coming can be seen. The meditations on the Passion seem to take the idea of “seeing God through Mary” and push it into literality. Because she has perfect vision, the way to see God properly is to see him as she does, through her eyes. She still acts as a mediator between the mortal and the divine, just as she did in bearing Christ, but now she is a mask to be slipped on, rather than a textual interpreter. Playing out the idea that when God is seen through Mary, it is through her physical eyes, the focus on the Passion begins to make sense. Christ’s death is perhaps the most important occurrence she ever witnesses; she sees the embodied God act to save the souls of all mankind. If Christians wanted to see God through Mary’s physical eyes then this would be the moment to do so.
Wrapping one’s head around the idea of seeing God is a daunting if not impossible task. God is, almost by definition, that which is beyond human comprehension of conception, outside of time and space. He is unable to be contained within the mortal world, i.e. unable to be properly perceived by humans – held or contained within their minds. The exception here is, of course Mary. She contained God within her womb, and because she has perfect vision, presumably can contain him within her mind as well. The Crucifixion is a moment that both heightens this impossibility and conversely also lowers it. God dies. God, who made the universe, who made Mary, dies. It is even more difficult to understand how this thing that is God could die, than to understand what this thing that is God is. However, along with God, Mary’s fleshly son who she made also dies. Mary has perfect vision and therefore possesses the ability to perceive both these events; the death of God, her creator, and of Christ, her son. Mary’s relationship to both sides of this duality lowers the impossibility of seeing God at the moment of the Crucifixion.
Mary’s response to the Crucifixion also make an ideal focus for the project of attempting to get behind her eyes, because her deep emotional distress and its attendant physical manifestations are a result of both of the events that she sees. While trying to perfectly understand God and his death is beyond the immediate grasp of most people (in fact beyond that of all people aside from the Virgin Mary, which is the whole point of this exercise) the loss of a loved one, such as a son, is far more comprehensible. Mary’s pain at the loss of her son acts as an entry point for getting inside her head so that one could eventually see through her eyes. Within her the two losses are irreversibly linked. Ideally, one would eventually, with prayer and meditation, move from perceiving her mourning as being of Jesus, her son, to being of the Lord her God; progressing along the chain in which she is the crucial connecting link.
The distinct physical manifestation Mary’s grief takes provides an additional link to the older tradition of Marian service, as well as a secondary means of access to her sight. Service in the Marian tradition has so far involved real, physical, work. Mary’s servants go on pilgrimages, tumble, and most commonly sing. Singing, aside from being physically demanding also produces sound. If one has properly internalized Mary’s pain while contemplating the crucifixion, then one should also be producing the tears that are so highlighted in Marian accounts of the Passion. Crying is quite obviously and audible action, but it can also be incredibly physical as well. Crying, with the proper intent, is in some way, and acceptable act of service toward Mary. Re-creating the physical manifestation of Mary’s suffering also begins to put one within her headspace. This is a in some ways a lesser point of entry, even further from true comprehension of God than a recreation of Mary’s emotional state. This is however, a very physical interpretation of “seeing God through Mary” so it remains important that the physical aspects of inhabiting Mary as she was at the crucifixion are not ignored. Of these, the ways in which her eyes, through which people wanted to see, are the most worthy of note, aside from how generally physically drained she was. If, as the meditations say, she spent almost the entirety of the event weeping, then to truly see God as she did, one would have to look out through a veil of tears.
There are many aspects of the focus on emotional contemplation that seem strange or over the top, particularly when examined individually. However when considered alongside the ongoing tradition of Marian devotion, while still quite dramatic, a method and purpose begins to emerge which places this type of contemplation more in line with its forbearers than is immediately obvious.
- M. Coker